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When the Red, Red Bobber Comes Bob-Bob-Bobbing Along

Spring is the ideal time to go bass fishing with family.

By Larry D. Hodge

Kathy Magers of Waxahachie is a fifty-something grandmother who fished women’s professional bass-fishing tours for 18 years, but she remembers exactly why, when and where she got hooked on fishing.

The bobber did it.

“My grandfather taught me to fish in Galveston Bay when I was about 4 years old,” Magers recalls. “He had long popping corks, green with a pink top. He would rig one and throw it out for me, and I knew that when that cork went under, I had a fish on. I carry one of those corks with me when giving talks on fishing, and when people ask what got me interested in fishing, I show it to them. The bobber is the icon of fishing. When it goes under, it’s the signal that the fun has begun.”

Magers, a member of the Texas Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame, has passed on her love of fishing — especially bass fishing — to both her daughters and a growing collection of grandchildren. Her success is due in large measure to her ability to still see the world through a child’s eyes, a knack revealed as she recalls the things she enjoyed most about those early outings with her grandfather.

“I liked it because I knew all my friends were still in bed, and I was up before sunrise. I thought it was cool to eat out while it was still dark, drive down the beach toward the Bolivar Ferry with Grandpa’s boat in tow, watch the sun come up. I had never seen the sun come up before,” she says.

Another high point came after a day of fishing. “When I got to be five or six, Grandpa would tell me that if I was really good, he would let me steer the boat as we were coming in from fishing. There I was, giraffe-necking over the steering wheel, thinking I was driving the boat, though I’m sure he was holding on to the bottom of the wheel. That imprinted me with a love of boating. A few years ago I found a report I had to write in second grade telling about myself and my family. Mine said, ‘I like to ride in boats’ and had a picture of a man and a woman in a boat with my name — Kathleen — on the side.”

Know Before You Go

Magers puts a lifetime of experience to work when she takes a young person fishing. One of the most important things to take into account is the weather. “People often think it’s best to go fishing on a pretty day, but fish don’t bite well on bluebird days,” she advises. “The perfect day would be partly cloudy with a 5- to 10-mile-per-hour breeze and an air temperature over 60. On cool days, dress children warmly. The chill factor of air on water is greater than on land, so they need to wear a few extra clothes to stay comfortable.”

Magers follows a one-hour-for-year-of-age rule when deciding how long to stay out. For children under age 5 in the group, she advocates taking along games or toys to keep them busy in case they lose interest, so that older youths can keep fishing.

Preparation for the trip can be part of the adventure. Take the youngsters with you to buy fishing licenses. A trip to the tackle section of a sporting goods store furnishes ample opportunities to acquaint kids with fishing gear and let them get their hands on it. For home-based learning, visit TPWD’s angler education pages at <www.tpwd.state.tx.us/edu/anged/>.

Anglers have a responsibility to know fishing rules and regulations and to be able to identify fish caught, since size and bag limits vary by species as well as by body of water. Have children visit <www.tpwd.state.tx.us/fish/infish/index.phtml> to learn where and how to fish and how to identify their catch. Whether you give pop quizzes is up to you.

Gearing Up

Despite her love of boating, Magers is quick to point out that having a boat is not a requirement for a successful fishing trip. “Look where people in boats go — they fish the shore,” Magers says. She recommends fishing from the bank or from fishing piers. Many lakes, some in state parks, cater to boatless anglers (see sidebar, facing page).

“Many people think a child needs a short rod, but that’s not true,” Magers says. “They need a 5.5- to 6-foot rod, because that gives them leverage to get fish out of submerged cover.” The longer rod offers the additional important benefit that it’s much easier to cast.

The spincast or open-faced spinning reels are the best reels for kids to learn with. “When you are first teaching a child to fish, the spincast or open-faced reels are best,” she says. “But start teaching them to use a bait-casting reel.”

A camera is also an essential tool on a fishing trip, and not just to take pictures of beaming anglers with their catches. “Don’t wait for a child to catch a fish to hold up,” Magers says. “Take pictures as they are fishing, when they are crying, when they are mad. My favorite picture of my grandson (Ryan McDowell of Waxahachie) shows him sitting there frustrated with a tangled line.”

Safety is always a concern when sharp hooks and tender skin are involved. “Teach children to leave only one or two inches of line between the lure and the tip of the rod when casting,” Magers says. “This helps prevent hooking someone else when casting. It’s also a good idea to have everyone yell ‘Going out’ before casting, so that others can stand clear.”

The Bait Debate

Bass fishing and artificial lures go together like fish and water, and some people balk at fishing for bass using live bait, since bass may swallow bait and hook too deeply to be removed. “I like to use lures, and I encourage children to use lures, but an artificial bait is only as good as the action it has, and children don’t have the skill it takes to use a lure the way it should be worked,” Magers says. “When fish won’t bite on lures, I suggest using live bait under a bobber and fishing for any species. You may catch bass, and you may not. To minimize deep hooking that can harm fish, set the hook quickly. If you can’t get the hook out easily, cut the line and leave the hook in place. That holds true for live bait or artificials.” Avoid using stainless steel or nickel-plated hooks, so that hooks left in place will rust away quickly, leaving the fish to bite another day.

When using artificials, Magers suggests using a noise-making lipless crankbait in a chrome pattern. “If you see schooling activity where fish are chasing bait to the surface, have the child throw out ahead of the direction the fish are heading, start reeling, and be ready. It could be largemouth bass or white (sand) bass or any kind of schooling fish. That’s a good way to fish open water, but don’t use those type lures in heavy cover. When fishing heavy cover or a shoreline, use weedless lures that won’t hang up.”

Natural baits can save a fishing trip like nothing else can. Magers recalls the day on Lake Fork when she and grandson Ryan were getting royally skunked. “After lunch, I decided to try minnows instead of lures,” Magers smiles. “I put a minnow on Ryan’s line, and it no more than hit the water when the fun started. The first fish was 5 pounds, the second 7. Boats around us that were not catching anything began edging closer, watching Ryan jump up and down with his rod bent double. The most remarkable thing was that when people saw what was going on, everybody in all six boats stood up and gave Ryan a standing ovation. It made me want to cry. That is still my most memorable day fishing.”

That may not be true forever. Magers’ newest fishing partner is her 6-year-old granddaughter, Erin Johnston of Duncanville. “She lives in a Barbie world — school, coloring books and all that stuff — but when we go fishing, she is as into it as her brothers, Jason and Drew, and she can squeal louder,” Magers says.

The rewards of family fishing go far beyond happy memories and food for the table. “When you fish with a child, you bond with that child, and no one can take that away from you,” Magers says. “I can’t talk to my grandkids on the phone, but put them in a boat with me, and we communicate. The thing I like best is when they call and say, ‘Grammie, when are we going fishing again?’ That means either they want to be with me, or they just want a fishing guide, but I know for that one day I rank above dolls and video games and all those things — and I love it.

For more information on family fishing, visit www.tpwd.state.tx.us/familyfish.

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